Babylon 5 #36: Hunter, Prey

"Maybe someone should have labeled the future: 'Some assembly required.'"
IN THIS ONE... A doctor is on the run from the Earth Alliance on Babylon 5, with crucial information a conspiracy.

REVIEW: If I were to lay this episode's failure at something's feet, it might well be the casting of the guest-stars, something that's usually a plus on Babylon 5. Not this time. Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court) is the most charismatic of them, hidden behind a beard and mullet which is far less dramatic than playing up his height might have been. His voice is also too warm and funny to really sell him as a dangerous thug. Well, considering how easily he gives up at the end, I guess that's consistent (still not good). Franklin's old mentor (yes, another one), played by Tony Steedman, is fine but boring. It goes down from there. Bernie Casey, here a slimy bureaucrat called Derek Cranston, has never been my cup of tea. I disliked him as Sisko's old friend on Deep Space 9, but he's even worse here. The performance is sleepy at best, and he sounds like he's been shot up with novocaine, slurring his words. Even worse is Wanda de Jesus as General Hague loyalist Sarah, with her arch delivery, smiling threateningly when she should be gaining Sheridan's trust. Just terrible. So badly played, in fact, I don't know how to interpret the ending. Sheridan might as well have delivered Dr. Jacobs to the enemy, for all the proof she offers of being (and seeming!) on the right side.

I'd be more enthusiastic if the Earth Alliance conspiracy was significantly advanced by the plot. All it really does is confirm what we've known/suspected all along, that Clark got off Earthforce One because he knew it would blow up and kill President Santiago. Sheridan getting a briefing from the agent called Sarah brings repeats points just made in All Alone in the Night. And so most of the runaround concerns complications to getting the star witness back before Earthforce intelligence does, a search conducted by Garibaldi wearing an outrageously silly gumshoe hat. There's playing up the film noir element, and then there's a fashion faux-pas.

So what's good here? Well, Sheridan getting crucial information late and being forced to contravene his own people who are just following orders is an interesting dilemma, and it's fun to see him and Ivanova (she's really getting impish, isn't she?) run circles around the likes of Cranston. Garibaldi gleefully gets violent with the perps, and that's entertaining too, as is his mode of secret communication with Dr. Franklin. The B-thread concerns Sheridan making it his mission to learn all he can about the Vorlons, and though Kosh plays it cryptic as usual, we do get our first look at his living ship's capabilities. What's really intriguing isn't so much that it's telepathic or a shape-shifter, but that its master Kosh actually gets involved! For the first time, we get a sense of what the Vorlons want (though we're not supposed to ask that question), which for now is preparing Sheridan/humanity for what's coming. Seems Kosh is on the same page as Delenn, if I read it right. That nice exchange about the future not being everything it was cut out to be and needing "some assembly" seems to connect to that idea.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Bernie Casey had appeared in Deep Space 9's two-parter The Maquis the year before. He wasn't a guy you could trust there either.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - While there are some good things here, mostly on the Vorlon side of things, the plot seems entirely redundant and disposable, and the guest acting is problematic at best.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall this is the first time I had a sense that the Vorlons were genuinely benevolent, but were just operating on levels that humans don't get.

Oh is it that time already? I was recently griping about Sheridan asking "what do you want?" and getting rebuked by Kosh, but I didn't remember precisely when it happened. Guess it came up sooner than expected. It seems lazy and forced to me that the Shadows have called dibs on a common and reasonable question, and Vorlons get surly about it.

Ryan Lohner said...

This is one of JMS' personal least favorite episodes, largely because the A-plot is an entirely conventional story, something he wanted to avoid with the show at all times. Also, Kosh's ship ended up looking nowhere near as impressive as he'd imagined while writing the script, and in his own words, "Bernie Casey is a great actor. What happened to his performance in this episode is anyone's guess."

Easily the highlight is Garibaldi and Franklin's discussion about the past's view of the future. It's fun enough seeing them as pretty much a film noir cop duo, but this takes it to a whole other level, before being spoiled by Franklin ridiculously spotting the engraving on Jacobs' watch all the way across the room.

After William Sanderson in Grail, we get another classic '80s sitcom star as a Downbelow gangster, and Richard Moll works out much better. I don't know who had the bright idea to take this casting route, but I can't argue with results.

CiB said...

To the first Anonymous-

(SPOILERS THOUGH)

When you consider what the Vorlons and the Shadows are, in Babylon 5 the reason it's a "common and reasonable" question is due to Shadow influence.

The questions may seem forced, but they are incredibly efficient ways of making clear the ideological differences between the more enigmatic species in Babylon 5.

Anonymous said...

Everyone, including Kosh himself, wants something at some point. Babylon 5 itself wouldn't exist if an awful lot of people from a variety of planets didn't want something (peace, or at the very least neutral territory to interact to negotiate for what they want). So making the very question the exclusive province of the Shadows just doesn't seem sensible.

Madeley said...

Maybe Kosh recoils instinctively because for a split second he considers the possibility that Sheridan has in some way been touched by the Shadows.

LiamKav said...

When Cranston is briefing security, one of the screens behind him seems to run to the end of it's tape. Towards the end of the scene it changes to a display saying "Babylon 5 CG Playback", and has "Hunter, Pray" amoungst other things visible. If it was 4:3 thenit probably would be cut off the edge, which is why I'm guessing no-one ever noticed it.

There's a nice moment when a Ranger walks past Sheridan and Garibaldi as they walk down a corridor, and Garlibaldi turns to look at him.

I also like the show's dedication to showing that Franklin appears to be running a teaching hospital. It's a lot closer to how real-life doctors work, and something we never see on Trek.

Kosh getting annoyed by "What do you want" is odd in any case, as Sheridan begins his rant by saying it twice, and Kosh doesn't repond. Maybe it's the combination of Sheridan calling Kosh on his shit AND asking him that question that annoys Kosh.

 

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